Bay Area and Israeli officials meet to discuss how to combat human trafficking
Bay Area and Israeli officials meet to discuss how to combat human trafficking

Local cops and D.A.s visit Israel for human trafficking solutions

As Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen stood in the security line at the airport in November, waiting to fly from San Francisco to Tel Aviv, he noticed something that seemed a little ironic.

“The video that’s playing is a video TSA has put together, all about human trafficking,” he said.

As it happened, Rosen and 10 other Bay Area law enforcement officials were on their way to Israel to talk to their counterparts about that very subject, and how the Jewish state has made huge strides in combating it.

The Bay Area delegates met with a range of people working on the problem in Israel, from Knesset members to nonprofit workers, as well as Israel’s national coordinator for anti-trafficking, Dina Dominitz of the Ministry of Justice.

“I’ve been on some delegations where it’s fluff,” said Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. “This was not fluff to me.”

One of the main aims of the trip was for Israel to present its comprehensive approach of policy, criminal justice, prevention and street-level humanitarian work. That’s according to Antonia Lavine, executive director of the San Francisco branch of the National Council of Jewish Women, which set up the trip and also is the organizing body behind the San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking, an initiative linking law enforcement and advocacy groups working on the issue.

“Because human trafficking is an organized and transnational type of crime, it requires also working in many related fields,” Lavine said.

Israel has been lauded for its recent progress in combating human trafficking. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, trafficking to Israel — mostly for sex work — increased dramatically. According to the Ministry of Justice, even as late as 2003, more than 3,000 women were trafficked into Israel for prostitution alone. Since then, a concerted effort to stop traffickers at the border and crack down on those already in the country has resulted in a dramatic reduction in trafficking, and Israel was moved to the top tier of countries as determined by a 2012 U.S. State Department report.

“The battle really, really succeeded,” said Ravit Baer, Israel’s deputy consul general in San Francisco.

Speaking to J. in 2016, Shmueli said that the problem of sex trafficking in Israel was virtually nonexistent. “We have practically eliminated what you saw in the ’90s,” Israel’s anti-trafficking coordinator said.

Shmueli added that sharing best practices is key, because even in countries with very different political systems, trafficking exhibits similar characteristics — from victim behavior to evidentiary difficulties.

“I learned a lot,” Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said, not that Israeli participants didn’t learn a thing or two from the Bay Area delegates.

Also on the trip were Susan Breall and Christopher Hite (California Superior Court judges), Marianna Warmee (a federal administrative judge and president of the S.F. Collaborative Against Human Trafficking), Toney Chaplin (an assistant police chief in San Francisco), Donald M. O’Keefe (a U.S. marshal), Alex Tse (recently named acting U.S. Attorney for Northern California) and Annemarie Conroy (an assistant U.S. Attorney and former San Francisco supervisor).

“We are the people who can actually make a difference,” said Kirkpatrick.

The police chief became interested in going on the trip because of efforts to combat trafficking that need to be made in Oakland, which she says is known for the problem. O’Malley, who has been working on the issue for a long time, received the S.F. Collaborative Against Human Trafficking’s Modern-Day Abolitionist Award on Jan. 11.

O’Malley said she also was interested to learn about Israel’s new focus on other kinds of trafficking — such as labor trafficking for construction and one more grisly type. “They’re starting to see organ trafficking,” she said.

The trip to Israel is far from the only way the NCJW is involved in working against human trafficking.

The S.F. branch is the fiscal sponsor of the Collaborative Against Human Trafficking, with Lavine serving as organizer. It also is one of the founding members of the Jewish Coalition to End Human Trafficking, an initiative that includes Jewish Family and Children’s Services, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the New Israel Fund.

Not only that, but Bay Area women of the NCJW have been working to fight sex trafficking for many years, since the days it was known as “white slavery,” Lavine said.

Now Kirkpatrick calls human trafficking “modern-day slavery” and said it is found all over. Many people think of forced prostitution when they think of trafficking, but Kirkpatrick added home-care workers and agricultural workers to that list.

“It’s a complicated problem,” Rosen agreed.

That’s why it’s important to share techniques and ideas on a trip like the one to Israel, he said. And there may be more delegations. Lavine said the five-day visit in November was a pilot program that can, from all accounts, be judged successful.

Rosen agreed, adding that for most of the delegates, it was their first trip to the country. “I certainly think it opened people’s eyes to what it’s like in Israel,” he said.

And beyond meetings, for O’Malley, seeing the level of diversity, safety and caring in Israel was a positive experience — like the Tel Aviv school for the undocumented and stateless children the delegation visited.

“I found that to be very inspiring,” O’Malley said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.